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Facts About Underage Drinking for Teens

August 22, 2014  |  Falmouth Enterprise

Dr. Michael Bihari

The local news media continues to be filled with stories about the current heroin epidemic which is threatening the lives and well-being of young adults on Cape Cod. This is a serious problem that the community needs to address and there are several local efforts dealing with the problem.

It’s important, however, to remember that the vast majority of youngsters do not use heroin or prescription narcotic pain killers; this is especially true among high-school aged kids. In that age group, the most commonly abused substance is alcohol.

During the past five years, the Falmouth Prevention Partnership has worked with the Falmouth Public Schools to survey students in grades 6 through 12. These surveys, done in 2009, 2011, and 2013, provide a picture of our kid’s involvement with substance abuse and the factors that place them at risk or protect them from unhealthy behaviors.

One important measure is a teen’s abuse of a substance in the past 30 days from the time they answered a question. The good news for Falmouth is the significant decrease in the 30-day use of alcohol over a five year period. Specifically, for Falmouth High School students the 30-day use of alcohol was down from 50.9% in 2009 to 43.4% in 2011 to 35.1% in 2013. You can see an analysis and the results of all the surveys at the Partnership website (falmouthprevention.org). The surveys can be found in Community Profile & Youth Surveys in the About FPP section of the site.

With the summer break coming to an end and many of our kids starting middle school and high school in September, it’s time to remain vigilant and dispel some of the common myths and reemphasize the facts about teen drinking. 

Parents: The myths in this article focus on a number of misperceptions that our kids have about drinking. Please share this article with your tweens and teens. If your kids have left for college, clip or scan the article and send it to them.

The facts about alcohol for teens is based on information from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

For Tweens, Teens, and Young Adults

You probably see and hear a lot about alcohol—from TV, movies, music, and your friends. But what are the real facts about underage alcohol use?

Myth: Alcohol isn’t as harmful as other drugs. 

Fact: Alcohol increases your risk for many deadly diseases, such as cancer. Drinking too much alcohol too quickly can lead to alcohol poisoning, which can kill you.

Myth: Drinking is a good way to loosen up at parties.

Fact: Drinking is a dumb way to loosen up. It can make you act silly, say things you shouldn’t say, and do things you wouldn’t normally do (like get into fights or have sex).

Myth: Drinking alcohol will make me cool.

Fact: There’s nothing cool about stumbling around, passing out, or puking on yourself. 

Myth: All of the other kids drink alcohol. I need to drink to fit in.

Fact: If you really want to fit in, stay sober. Most young people don’t drink alcohol. At Falmouth High School 65 percent of students have not had a drink in the past month. 

Myth: It’s easy to sober up after long periods of drinking.

Fact: Alcohol withdrawal symptoms often get worse over time, and may persist for weeks. Alcohol withdrawal can be fatal, and is much more likely to cause death than withdrawal from less socially-accepted drugs such as heroin.

Myth: I can sober up quickly by taking a cold shower or drinking coffee.

On average, it takes 2 to 3 hours for a single drink to leave the body. Nothing can speed up the process, including drinking coffee, taking a cold shower, or “walking it off.”

Myth: Adults drink, so kids should be able to drink too.

Fact: A young person’s brain and body are still growing. Drinking alcohol can cause learning problems or lead to adult alcoholism. People who begin drinking before age 15 are five times more likely to abuse or become dependent on alcohol than those who begin drinking after age 21.

Myth: Beer and wine are safer than liquor.

Fact: Alcohol is alcohol ... it can cause problems no matter how you consume it. One 12-ounce bottle of beer or a 5-ounce glass of wine has as much alcohol as a 1.5-ounce shot of liquor.

Myth: I can drink alcohol and not have any problems.

Fact: If you’re under 21, drinking alcohol is a big problem: It’s illegal. If caught, you may be involved with legal proceedings that can lead to problems in the future. And, anyone including your parents and older siblings can be fined or jailed for providing your with alcohol.

Teens who drink also are more likely to get poor grades in school, and are at higher risk for being a crime victim. Alcohol kills more youth than all other drugs combined, including alcohol poisoning, homicides, suicides, and unintentional injuries such as burns, drowning, and falls. And, alcohol places kids at a higher risk for academic failure, depression, sexual assault, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted infection, and other substance abuse.

Recommended Resources for Teens

Whether you drink alcohol or not, explore the resources below to learn more about underage drinking and the effects it can have on your health. Also learn about some of the legal issues of underage drinking.

Too Smart to Start: Not drinking before age 21 is smart. Why? Because alcohol affects every organ in your body, including your brain. 

Alcohol, Drugs, and Youth: The decisions you make about alcohol and drugs today will influence your health, your grades, your future. 

The Cool Spot: In middle school? This is the site to learn about underage drinking. 

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